PANEL DISCUSSION | Black is Beautiful: The Photography of Kwame S. Brathwaite
Throughout the 1960s, Kwame Brathwaite used photography to document the arts scene of Harlem and popularize the political slogan “Black Is Beautiful.” Considering current social justice trends taking a collective hold, Brathwaite’s work remains engaging and relevant for contemporary viewers.
Inspired by activist and black nationalist Marcus Garvey, Brathwaite founded the African Jazz Arts Society and Studios (AJASS) and Grandassa Models. AJASS was a collective of artists, playwrights, designers, and dancers. Grandassa Models—the subject of much of this show’s contents— was a modeling agency for black women, founded to challenge Euro-centric beauty standards.
This exhibition—the first ever dedicated to Brathwaite’s impressive career—tells the story of a key figure of the second Harlem Renaissance. Join us for a discussion panel between Brathwaite’s son, Kwame S. Brathwaite, and two of the contributors Aperture’s exhibition catalogue: culture critic and author, Tanisha C. Ford; and photographer, curator and author Deborah Willis. The panel will be moderated by Marc Bamuthi Joseph, a a spoken-word poet, dancer, and playwright.
This program will include a wine reception.
Kwame Samori Brathwaite, son of photographer Kwame Brathwaite, is the Director of the Kwame Brathwaite Archive, through which he manages his father’s photographic archive and collaborative projects that are concordant with the themes in his father’s work, namely activism, politics, fashion and music. Kwame Samori authored a chapter entitled Fashion and Consciousness in the book Mod New York: Fashion takes a Trip and has lectured at numerous institutions including the Museum of the City of New York, Cal State Fullerton and Harvard Art Museum. He co-curated Celebrity and the Everyday at Philip Martin Gallery along with Jesse Williams and curated Black is Beautiful: The Photography of Kwame Brathwaite, a touring exhibition in partnership with Aperture Foundation. The exhibit is currently on view at The Museum of the African Diaspora in San Francisco and will travel to the Columbia Museum of Art and the New York Historical Society this year. Kwame Samori, also a real estate professional, graduated from Amherst College in 1996 with a B.A. in Law, Jurisprudence and Social Thought and an MBA from USC’s Marshall School of Business in 2018. He lives and works in Pasadena, CA with his wife Robynn and three children, Jackson, Carter and Kennedy.
Deborah Willis, Ph.D., is a University Professor and Chair of the Department of Photography & Imaging at the Tisch School of the Arts at New York University where she teaches courses on Photography & Imaging, iconicity, and cultural histories visualizing the black body, women and gender. Her research examines photography’s multifaceted histories, visual culture, the photographic history, contemporary women photographers and migration. Willis is the author of Posing Beauty: African American Images from the 1890s to the Present; and co-author of The Black Female Body: A Photographic History and Michelle Obama: The First Lady in Photographs (both titles NAACP Image Award Winner). She has appeared and consulted on media projects including documentary films such as Through A Lens Darkly and Question Bridge; Black Males, a trans media project, which received the ICP Infinity Award 2015.
Tanisha C. Ford is an award-winning writer, cultural critic, and historian. She is the author of Liberated Threads: Black Women, Style, and the Global Politics of Soul and Dressed in Dreams: A Black Girl’s Love Letter to the Power of Fashion, and co-author of Kwame Brathwaite: Black is Beautiful. Ford’s public writing and cultural commentary have been featured in the Atlantic, the New York Times, Elle, and the Root. She is Professor of History at The Graduate Center, CUNY.
Marc Bamuthi Joseph is a 2017 TED Global Fellow, an inaugural recipient of the Guggenheim Social Practice initiative, and an honoree of the United States Artists Rockefeller Fellowship. In pursuit of affirmations of black life in the public realm, he co-founded the Life is Living Festival for Youth Speaks, and created the installation “Black Joy in the Hour of Chaos” for Creative Time. Joseph’s opera libretto, We Shall Not Be Moved, was named one of 2017’s “Best Classical Music Performances” by The New York Times. Formerly the Chief of Program and Pedagogy at YBCA in San Francisco, Bamuthi currently serves as the Vice President and Artistic Director of Social Impact at The Kennedy Center.